Mark's My Store

Mark's My Store cashier/front end supervisor Amanda Taylor and store owner Mark Elliott work at the service desk on Friday at this locally owned supermarket in Mattoon.

CHARLESTON -- The $15 minimum wage bump in Illinois has left some local business and organizations concerned about what this might mean going forward, but it is generally understood among locals that $8.25 is not enough to live on.

Blake Fairchild, CEO of the Mattoon Area Family YMCA, said YMCA facilities are known nationally for being locations where many high school and college students have their first jobs, positions that are typically minimum wage. He said the Mattoon Y employs students part-time as lifeguards, summer camp staff, daycare workers, and sports officials.

The minimum wage for younger employees -- currently $7.75 per hour -- is set to increase to $8 on Jan. 1 and peak at $13 per hour in 2025.

Fairchild said the Mattoon Y and its new Neal Center YMCA branch in Toledo employ a total of 188 staff members and only 13-14 of these employees are full time. He said the majority of the remaining employees work at minimum wage.

"The new minimum wage will have a major impact on us," Fairchild said, adding that the YMCA is still calculating the exact impact.

Mark Elliott, owner of Mark's My Store in Mattoon, said he has been closely watching news about the state's new minimum wage law. Elliott said the new minimum wage will be implemented over the course of five years, so he is glad that there will at least not be a dramatic increase immediately.

However, Elliott said the law will ultimately result in Mark's My Store and other businesses throughout Illinois having to pay $15 per hour for positions that are currently often held by high school students.

"In order to keep our doors open, we are going to have to raise prices and reduce hours of to offset some of that cost," Elliott said.

For incoming business owners, as well, the move is not seen in positive light.

"I don't think it is the greatest," Ryan Strange said.

Strange is opening up a meat market on the Charleston square and is working on renovating the old CTF Illinois building, also in uptown Charleston, for something unannounced at this point.

Despite his reservations, Strange said he understood where those campaigning for the new standard were coming from.

This Democratic measure left some in the county unsure on where they land with the bill. While some area residents agree that the current minimum wage requirement is not enough, the news of an increased minimum wage left people divided.

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Harold Huckstead, a local resident, is on the fence. He is concerned with what might happen to the small businesses, but he noted people "can't hardly get by on wages today."

Jessica Fishel of Mattoon sees a need for a jump. As someone who works between five jobs, she said it is time.

"The $15 increase is quite the jump, but it has been eight years since we have had a raise in the minimum wage," she said. "In those eight years, the price of things have increased, so the minimum should be raised."

A hike to $15 sounds like a lot to Fishel, but she said the hoopla around the increase is overstated in her eyes.

"I don't know why everyone is freaking out," she added.

Michael Gillespie, an Eastern Illinois University professor who tracks poverty in the county, is excited by the increase.

Gillespie believes the increase will make a dent, however small, in the poverty in the county, which is sizable in comparison to other counties in the state.

Gillespie said he hopes the impact to poverty in the area will be "a crater," but it will take several years before the county or the state figures out that impact to low-income families, partly because the increase to $15 is transitional.

Described as micropolitan because it acts as a hub for surrounding smaller counties, much like a central city acts for a suburb, the county is home to a lot of low-skill required service industry jobs, Gillespie noted.

So for Gillespie, putting more money in the pockets of lower income families via a higher minimum wage is "a good thing." He said more money means more to spend, which he said people tend to do with more dollars in their wallet.

Gillespie added he is skeptical of worries that prices of goods and services will soar as a result. He believes that is still an unknown that people continue to hang their hat on.

"The rewards outweigh the risk," he said.

Of note, local higher education officials also stated concern over the increase as well late last week, stating the move could mean an increase to the state's contribution or to tuition rates.

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Contact Jarad Jarmon at (217) 238-6839. Follow him on Twitter: @JJarmonReporter



Jarad Jarmon is a reporter for the JG-TC. He covers the city of Charleston, Eastern Illinois University, Mattoon schools and the Regional Office of Education.


Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.

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